NASA's Safety Advisers Say SpaceX and Boeing Spacecraft Aren't Safe
On the heels of new announcements that Boeing and SpaceX's plans to delay their manned spaceflights with NASA, a new report has been published by NASA's top safety panel claiming that neither company is ready to fly.
This could mean that Boeing's launch date could shift to 2019, while SpaceX's launch has already been pushed back to December of this year.
One of the key concerns in the report has to do with impacts from micrometeoroids and space junk, which can damage spacecraft while in flight. However, it seems the safety issues facing SpaceX and Boeing go much deeper—according to the report: "Even with the extra safeguard of mandated on-orbit inspections to detect collision damage, the independent watchdogs concluded "the likelihood remains that the providers will not meet all" of the previously agreed-to requirements."
SpaceX has been singled out by the safety advisers for two major infractions: first is the safety of their helium tanks, which have been the cause of at least two rockets' "catastrophic explosions" in the past two years (in case you didn't see SpaceX's explosion reel, you can check it out here).
The second infraction is SpaceX's procedure when boarding astronauts—most agencies load fuel onto a rocket first, then allow astronauts to board. SpaceX loads astronauts first and then fuels their rocket, which can expose the passengers to more danger.
There has been tremendous excitement surrounding the recent plans to send more humans into space, especially Mars, but the process has moved incredibly quickly so far—SpaceX only announced plans to colonize Mars in 2016, and only started running missions for the US government recently (which included the failed spy satellite launch of ZUMA). Despite the breakneck pace, NASA's advisory panel has stated that "there is no indication across NASA that schedule pressures are driving decisions that will adversely affect safety."
The ultimate goal of NASA's "commercial crew transportation" program is to have no more than "one possible fatal accident per 270 flights." For comparison, the lifetime odds of dying in a car accident is about 1 in 645. With that in mind, we'd still rather take our chances and ride a space shuttle to Mars. Of course, Elon Musk has admitted that a good number of people are going to die on Mars.